I can remember a moment last fall when Ringer looked like it might be one of the better new shows of the season. It's taken it a while, through some ups, some downs, and a couple of fallow patches, to clearly establish its identity as, instead, one of the most batshit. That's some kind of distinction, for sure, and it might be the kind of distinction that a melodramatic primetime soap about stolen identities and assorted acts of skullduggery among the very, very rich and highly photogenic could be expected to wear with some pride. The amazing thing is how Ringer has settled into a groove where it manages to be both nuts and boringly phlegmatic.
There's a moment in the last third of tonight's episode where Siobhan and Henry—who will always be Baze from Life Unexpected to me, not because I had any great love for that show, but how often do you have the chance to think of somebody as “Baze?”—get into an exposition ditch, painstakingly going over everything that's happened, until I wasn't sure that I'd make it out alive to write this review. These two had already helped get the episode started in style, with a sequence that began with Siobhan in “Paris, France,” talking to Henry on the phone. Cut to a flashback showing Andrew, in full douchebag mode, threatening her six months earlier, and then cut to a scene from two weeks ago in which she played Henry a tape of Andrew saying all the things we'd just heard him say. My other favorite moment tonight might be the scene where Juliet, who has become a serious liability to everyone's plans since she started trying to be nice to people, is about to board an elevator, and some hunky young lout pulls her headphones off her ears. She turns to face him and asks, “Do I know you?” and in the time it takes him to answer, the suspense nearly killed me. I had no idea whether he was going to turn out to be a total stranger or if he'd been in every third scene, and I'd gotten too confused to remember him.
Maybe this is an irrational concern on my part. Maybe I'm the only one who kept thinking that Malcolm was on the verge of being written out of the show, as often happens to characters like Malcolm on a show like this after they've outlived their usefulness to the plot. So I was a little confused when Malcolm kept reappearing, and then was caught off guard when everyone noticing that Malcolm's disappearance suddenly became one of the major story points. As soon as Bridget decided that she needed to find Malcolm, she needed a helper, so she sought out Solomon, another African-American sidekick who will drop everything to do her bidding. I can't help feeling that, now that she has this guy in her corner, if she does find Malcolm, it's going to be awkward.
Speaking of awkward, do you think that the actors on this show originally had any idea how painfully contorted their characters and their motives might have gotten by this point in the season? Do you think they even try to find a way to maintain some kind of consistency that will link the people they were playing last September with what they're doing now? Or do they just see it as a chance to create an entirely new character in every scene they're in, as if they were doing Greater Tuna? I guess it's kind of silly to worry about things like, say, the integrity of Ioan Gruffudd's character over the course of six months, given how badly he's forced to yo-yo all over the place in the course of this single hour of television. One minute, he's looming menacingly in the shadows and yelling at Bridget as if the only reason he doesn't kick her to death right then and there is that he doesn't want to ruin his shine. A few scenes later, he's vowing his eternal love to Bridget and literally taking a bullet for her, despite the fact that he thought she'd just confronted him in his office and promised to put him behind bars. (She hadn't, though. It was really Siobhan, trying to get him revved up to commit murder, the tricky minx.) It's like watching Sybil, if one of Sybil's personalities had been a hunky British yuppie who ran a Ponzi scheme and had gone off his meds.
It's easy to lose track of whom we're supposed to be rooting for. Complicated (and contrived) as the set-up was in the pilot, it did at least seem to be clear that Siobhan was the bad sister and that, whoever was trying to have her killed for whatever reason, it was probably a case of chickens coming home to roost. That's not so clear now that we know that Andrew was a criminal the whole time. And though setting Bridget up to step into her life when she knew she had a target on her back still counts as a shitty thing to do, Siobhan's belief that Bridget was to blame for the death of her son may, in this near-Almodovarian universe, legitimately count as extenuating circumstances. The one thing that's as clear as it ever was is that Bridget, sweet as a moo-cow, is also, compared to her sister, very slow on the uptake. According to the accepted rules of American popular entertainment, that may be what makes her the heroine by default, not to mention surprisingly hard to kill, even with trained professionals on the case.
If the show has coherent theme now, it may simply be that there are no accidents and that everyone is connected, though not in a groovy, universal-brotherhood way, or an existential six-degrees-of-separation way, but a Dollhouse-type “your next door neighbor was installed there to keep an idea on you by the evil corporation that put a hidden camera in your toilet” kind of way. That lunkhead who messed with Juliet's headphones turns out to be the guy who beat the crap out of Tessa, which Juliet learns when she meets Tessa in a cafe and tells her that she's been Googling this unbelievably gorgeous guy she just met and shows him an online picture (in which he looks like the biggest douche in the world, by the way), and Tessa recognizes his tattoo. Juliet runs back to the hotel to warn her mother that there's a stone-cold psycho running around loose in the building, but when she gets inside the room, she sees a hole punched in the wall, and remembering that the studly thug had bloody knuckles when she saw him, realizes that it was her mother who hired him to rough up Tessa. Connecting the dots this way must make things easier for the writers, and given what they have to work with, I don't begrudge them for taking whatever shortcuts may occur to them. But at moments like this, it's as if Ringer is actually an elaborate plot to destroy the romantic comedy genre, by subverting and exploding the idea of the “meet cute.”
- Carrie will be back next week. In the meantime, I'm glad we had this little talk.